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Painting (MA)

Ronan Porter

Ronan Porter currently resides in London, has a BA (Hons) Fine Art from the University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury, and is currently completing their MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art. They have exhibited work in Warsaw, Poland; Paphos, Cyprus; and in Canterbury, Newcastle, Margate, and London, England. 

They were born in the UK in 1994, but raised in a number of countries, first moving to Peru when they were four years old. Since then they have also lived in Papua New Guinea, Norway, Texas, Poland, Qatar, and Cyprus, only returning to the UK for university. They are eager to continue exploring other worlds, both real and fictional.

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.” (Sylvia Plath)

Serenity and chaos, vastness and insignificance, introspection and exploration, connection and isolation, discovery and suffocation. I’ve always had big ideas, my work is about finding the best way to convey not just their content but their immensity. Books can contain entire universes; paintings are theatrically large and immersive; film uses multiple senses to bring you into another world – there are so many ways I can bring my story Ragnar to life. Each incarnation brings something new and sparks different interpretations and questions.

I wrote a novel in the first lockdown – Ragnar, an invented world with a diverse cast of characters and an adventure driven by the question – can the human spirit be stronger than trauma? Ragnar is an arid red planet, a colour palette that influenced many paintings, where my protagonist Ren is defying their upbringing – and role in an oppressive regime – to rescue their partner and open themselves up to others along the way. The texts on every painting come from the novel and all image references are inspired by this other world and the characters in it.

These first pieces are influenced by the storyline, and the relationships featured – both between characters and with Ragnar. Science Fiction is a realm in which we can explore not only inter-personal relationships but add in the non-human, the planet, the society. Intimate moments between two characters are inscribed on enormous technological edifices, the alien landscape of Ragnar is described in a scrawl across a close embrace. Ragnar is a body as well as an environment, it’s not just a setting. Creating my own world gives me complete control: over the society, the expectations, the challenges, the environment, the technology - it's a blank slate. Ragnar can easily be classed “dystopian”, but in many aspects it’s a freer world than our own. There is no homophobia or transphobia for example, gender and sexuality isn’t even addressed it’s so unimportant. Ren is non-binary, it’s just accepted fact. This is a world where wealth is the true discriminator.

Recent paintings and film pieces are more character driven, exploring Ren and their partner Akira who both have POVs in the novel. What defines them? What drives or torments them? What do they search for? What actions do they take?

Akira struggles with truth and deception, torn between her home world and new world, she endures so much - how can she begin to overcome it? Ren is hard and unfeeling on the outside, a brutal enforcer, yet their inner dialogue is much softer and well hidden. They struggle to communicate because of their upbringing, and because their physical ability to speak was taken from them. 

There are so many ways to bring Ragnar to life, as a novel, as paintings, as film. Each incarnation brings something new and sparks different interpretations and questions. Writing “is a process of translation more than anything else: from the nebulous, abstract form in your head into the more limited concrete form that exists on a page…this process of translation means that writing is always a compromise. Words are wonderful, but they will never be as free and huge as thought.” (Maggie Stiefvater)

An astronomically huge thank you to my family, I literally couldn't have done any of this without you.

Our Breathing Matches — December 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 5 x 2.75m
Our Breathing Matches (Detail) — December 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 5 x 2.75m
Our Breathing Matches (Detail) — December 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 5 x 2.75m
Our Breathing Matches (Detail) — December 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 5 x 2.75m
Our Breathing Matches (Detail) — December 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 5 x 2.75m

I feel their back against mine, my sharpened shoulder blades dig into their skin.

Our breathing matches.

I reach to the side, find their hand in the dark, and thread our fingers together.

You give people to them.

A nod.

It's wrong.

A nod.

Will you stop?

A nod.

Just for me? Or because it's wrong?

No answer.

Are you coming for me?

A nod.

They squeeze my fingers.

My other hand is scratching my newly scarred skin.

We match.

A nod.

Will you still love me like this?

A nod.

They raise our twined hands to their face, their cool cheek, and the matching feel of scar tissue.

I love you.

Their skin feels damp.

I miss you.

Their tears pour onto my fingers, open wounds burn from the salt.

"Come quick."

A nod.

It's still early when I ride out from my valley. Cycle warm between my thighs, stars bright despite the edge of indigo on the horizon, thin atmosphere cold against the sliver of exposed skin at my throat. I have a couple of hours before I need to be in the barracks reporting for duty, and having woken up from another nightmare, I have no wish to try for more sleep.

Not since Akira was taken have I ventured out for no reason other than the illusion of freedom it gives. I've spent all my time fighting to get her back, working with the fools in the resistance - trying to earn their trust. Two missions with them and I still haven't met one in the flesh. Unsurprising really, I’m still wary that they decided to work with me at all.

I know I’m lying to myself when I say it’s all for her, that I don’t believe in their mission. I’ve spent my entire life terrorizing this planet and its people as a Guardian, in denial of what I was doing, not knowing the violence was abnormal, a choice, a damnation.

I weave between enormous red rock formations, accelerate through deep canyons carved into the desiccated surface of Ragnar. I dip in and out of the rural forcefields, atmosphere thickening and slowing me with its brief air resistance before shooting out of the other side. I avoid the tangles of vegetation in magenta, orange, violet, mustard, scarlet, all muted but brightening under the encroaching light of our two stars.

The clock is ticking.

I wanted to show her this. I'd taken her to so many places I'd explored; the glowing caverns deep below the surface, the many-voiced singer in a dusty bar in central Kwabe, the natural alcove on the brink of the overhang above Kanna - looking down on the most chaotic city on Ragnar. But never this.

I reach a flat-topped outcrop and leave my cycle at its base. The light chases me as I climb quickly, my gloved hands wedged between cracks, my boots dancing over the rough stone. I reach the top just as Aelis breaches the horizon and I watch the star rise. I perch on the edge, feet dangling, the iciness of the rock seeping through my armor. I watch the sky steadily brighten into an ultramarine, the stars fading until they are only just visible. The landscape comes alive with color and even though I've grown up on this world it still stuns me with its barren beauty.

I make a vow, to bring her here, to have her warmth at my side as we watch the suns rise. I will work with the resistance, hide from my twisted Guardian family, push the skills they cut into me to their very limits to make it happen. Guardians were supposed to protect, and it’s long past time we return to our roots.

The Firing Halts — April 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 4 x 2.75m
The Firing Halts (Detail) — April 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 4 x 2.75m
The Firing Halts
Aelis and Helios — October 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 4 x 2.75m
Aelis and Helios (Detail) — October 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 4 x 2.75m
A Shared Delusion — March 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 4 x 2.75m
A Shared Delusion (Detail) — March 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 4 x 2.75m

We see ourselves as utterly free,

a shared delusion.

We live as the unknown and unknowable,

the kind of people no one can ever find again.

We exist only in relation to unique and terrible conditions,

to our ghosts,

to the dead.

Yet, together, we found happiness.

February 2021

Medium:

Film

Size:

5 Minutes
Outside My Domain — April 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 3.8 x 2.75m
Outside My Domain (Detail) — April 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 3.8 x 2.75m
Outside My Domain (Detail) — April 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 3.8 x 2.75m
Why I Didn't Think Of Them — April 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 3.8 x 2.75m
Why I Didn't Think Of Them (Detail) — April 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 3.8 x 2.75m
Why I Didn't Think Of Them (Detail) — April 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 3.8 x 2.75m

My eyes welled with tears and I panicked,

I stood and turned away from her,

I crouched down in front of a tree - the glow lit my face - and I frantically wiped them away.

This is why I didn't think of it - why I didn't think of them.

I couldn't speak to her in the dark, so I pulled her to the entrance of the cavern I had brought her to see. A place untouched by humanity that I had stumbled on years ago in my rare explorations. We climbed through a narrow tunnel, I guided her around dark bends and over sharp, crumbling stone.

"I can't tell if I'm starting to see things in the dark or if that's light ahead," she whispered to me. I squeezed her hand. The glow steadily became brighter, I paused to tug off my dark-rims. There was just enough light to see, the whites of her eyes shone, and my hand was luminescent. I pushed her in front of me and lifted her over the final gap, she gasped.

The cavern was enormous, the ceiling stretched two hundred feet high, the floor a veritable jungle of plant life, the ceiling covered in vines and flowers.

All softly glowing.

Pale blue, vivid violet, fiery scarlet. She walked forward, running her hands over leaves the size of them, she leaned over to sniff a glowing orange flower with a thousand-pointed petals. The light was beautiful on her dark skin, streaking it with color.

"This is fucking amazing." She suddenly turned and sprinted into the glowing forest. I swallowed a laugh and followed. She darted from trees that had veins of deep blue and purple that crawled onto leaves of cyan, to bold pink flowers that were the size of her head. She stroked the leaves of a red fern and they curled away from her touch, so much like I still did sometimes. I felt an inkling of empathy for the leaves, she could be too much. Exposure hadn’t weakened the sensation of her touch that lingered long after she left me.

We eventually settled down somewhere in the bowl of the cavern, surrounded by softly pulsing azure trees. I unpacked the food I'd been hoarding in pieces all week. Rich nutty bread, soft cheese, slices of salami, cans of soda, and the real treasure, fruit from off-world, from Reina - her home. We feasted and Akira teared up at the sweet taste of the world she had left behind.

"Teach me more," she asked when we finished, mirroring her words with her hands.

What do you want to know?

Talk me of home for you.

It came from me slowly, both because the memories were difficult to uncover from where I’d buried them, and to teach her to sign the words she didn't know.

I don't think I'd ever spoken that much in my life.

Unthreatening Warmth — August 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 5 x 2.75m
Unthreatening Warmth (Detail) — August 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 5 x 2.75m
Unthreatening Warmth (Detail) — August 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 5 x 2.75m
Unthreatening Warmth
An Escape — September 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 3 x 2.75m
An Escape (Detail) — September 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 3 x 2.75m
A Beacon — September 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 3 x 2.75m
A Beacon (Detail) — September 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 3 x 2.75m

I kiss her again;

it's made wonderfully harder

by the fact

she can't stop smiling.

I Don't Have A Choice — May 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 4 x 2.75m
I Don't Have A Choice (Detail) — May 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 4 x 2.75m
The Revolution Can't Wait — September 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 4 x 2.75m
The Revolution Can't Wait (Detail) — September 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 4 x 2.75m
Black Tears — December 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 3 x 2.75m
Black Tears (Detail) — December 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 3 x 2.75m

A slice appears at their throat, 

I feel their warm blood stream over my fingers.

I see a shimmer

in their eyes,

and black tears

begin 

to spill.

You aren't really here.

What happened next was a blur, the cycle had gone under our rover and exploded. We were thrown, rover flipping, my body had slammed back inside and was being tossed around the interior.

I came to a few minutes later, the rover upside down, the driver still strapped to his seat but dead, blood dripping from a gruesome headwound.

I remember the agony, I remember the burning, I remember pulling myself free from the wreckage with a broken arm and cracked ribs. My armor searing hot against my flesh.

I could see the dust from the two rigs and remaining rover fading in the distance. They weren't going to come back for me, I was dead for all they knew. I crawled away from the wreckage in case it blew. I needed to get back to base. The shock was starting to wear off and my arm was screaming at me, my ribs stabbing with every breath.

I forced myself to my feet, I needed a ride. Most of the cycles had been destroyed but there was one that could maybe run. I stumbled back the way we'd come, through the smoldering remains of destroyed vehicles and dead raiders.

After what felt like an eternity, I found the one cycle that hadn't been obliterated and pulled it upright, almost blacking out from the pain. One side had been scraped to hell, there was extensive damage, but it seemed like the engine was mostly intact and both tires had held out. I managed to climb on and start it after several attempts.

The ride back to base is a blur in my memory, I can only recall desperately clinging to consciousness, the pain both keeping me awake and dragging me down to black bliss.

I made it back somehow, they patched me up and I reported to the CO. Both rigs had survived but I was sentenced to a week in isolation, as were the other remaining Guardians, for allowing the incident to happen and for the losses of two rovers, two drivers and five Guardians.

It would have been longer, but I'd personally killed three of the raiders which earned me some favor, mostly healing.

I embraced it, it let my ribs and arm start to heal, I didn't have to wear armor over my burns, and I could catch my breath. It was in a dark freezing pit, deep underground, but I could bear it.

I was fourteen.